Lakers-Trail Blazers Preview
The Portland Trail Blazers’ hot midseason stretch hit a snag over the weekend.
Luckily, they can work out the kinks at home, as Portland continues its seven-game stay Monday night against the Los Angeles Lakers, who will be without Kobe Bryant.
Portland (26-8) had strung together four consecutive victories, including impressive overtime wins over Oklahoma City and Toronto, prior to Saturday’s 115-107 loss to Atlanta. The Trail Blazers, who held the first three opponents on their homestand below 45.0 percent from the floor, let the Hawks shoot 51.2 percent and matched a season high in points allowed.
"I’ve been concerned about points in the paint defensively all season," coach Terry Stotts told the Blazers’ official website. "That is a concern. The ball was getting to the rim too much. I think the perimeter guys can guard the ball a little bit better, I think the bigs can do a better job of helping and certainly Robin (Lopez) not being here impacts that as well."
Portland’s interior defense took another hit in the loss. Already without Lopez, who is ailing with a broken hand, the Trail Blazers lost center Joel Freeland to a shoulder injury.
With both Lopez and Freeland out, the Trail Blazers will be forced to rely more heavily on reserves Thomas Robinson and Meyers Leonard. Robinson, who grabbed five rebounds in just under 10 minutes Saturday, has appeared in 18 games this season, while Leonard has seen action in 12.
"We’ll have to, once again, depend on guys to come in and fill that hole and play good enough," said Damian Lillard. "T-Rob’s done a great job every time he’s played, we’ve still got (Chris) Kaman out there.
"Obviously we want those guys on the court but I think we have guys, Meyers, willing to step in and kind of fill that hole and do what the team needs."
Los Angeles (11-23) will also be short-handed, as Bryant will take a scheduled day of rest. The 36-year-old missed three games in December due to fatigue as well.
The absence of Bryant may also mean the absence of momentum from Sunday’s 88-87 win over Indiana in which the 16-time All-Star knocked down the winning shot with 12 seconds remaining.
"I have many faults, but one of my strengths is that I can be realistic and that I can build around that," Bryant said of his recurring fatigue. "I have to understand my weaknesses, what I can’t do, accept it and then try to dominate."
The Lakers also will be without Wesley Johnson, who strained his right hip flexor Sunday. Johnson had scored in double digits in five of Los Angeles’ last six games before playing 12 scoreless minutes against the Pacers.
Nick Young should see an increase in usage given the Lakers’ thin lineup. Young scored 22 points on Sunday as a tuneup for his matchup with Portland, a team he torched for 40 points in his most recent meeting. Young converted 15 of 26 shots, including six of 13 3-pointers, in a 124-112 defeat on April 1.
The Trail Blazers have won two of the last three meetings, yet they’ve lost the past two games against the Lakers in Portland. LaMarcus Aldridge scored 31 points in the April contest, and Lillard has averaged 24.4 points in seven matchups – his second-best against any Western Conference team behind 27.8 against San Antonio.